I have discussed this topic with people I love, and people whose names I don’t know; people who love me, and people who would vilify me; people who have supported me, and people I have supported. I share my story not to designate a right or wrong. I share my story to offer additional knowledge to those who trust me, but do not know this about me.
In July, 2010, I moved from San Francisco, CA, where I worked as an admin assistant in a prominent healthcare facility, made 53k a year, and lived with roommates (they paid 2/3, I paid 1/3, of the already stupid low rent for the Richmond), back to Portland, ME, where I would be making about 28k a year, and where the cost of both my rent and utilities would increase.
Between October, 2010, and Jan 15, 2011, a few things happened:
I was laid off from my full-time job, and had only a freelance position for income, and had to apply for unemployment.
My youngest brother, a teenager who pretty much did two things: eat, and use electricity — spent many weekends with me, because our mother was unwell and needed inpatient care.
I received a job offer for a temp position (which became a permanent position within two weeks thereafter).
On January 24, 2011, he went to his first day of school in my district after moving in with me, and I went to my first day of the new job.
On February 23, 2011, I became the sole legal guardian of one teenage brother. No child support, no any support from either of his parents. His social security income was still going to our mother as his rep payee, and was not forwarded to me. I wasn’t making much above minimum wage, and it was winter, so utilities were pretty steep in my apartment in the building that still had its original windows from 1864 when it was built. A few months later I learned that I would have MaineCare because I was legal guardian to a disabled child. That was really helpful as secondary insurance, as I still bought my insurance through work because I wanted to do all I could to take good care of myself and of Joshua, and if I had the option of insurance through my employer, I knew I was really privileged and would take advantage of that opportunity.
We received SNAP benefits for a while. It made all the difference, because I was determined that J would not eat all processed crap, microwaveable meals intended to fill a belly but not nurture a body — it was all he knew, so getting him to eat better foods was a struggle, but we’ve made some progress over the years. Then, we lost all of the benefits a couple of years ago when Maine realized that a glitch in the DHHS computer system had cost them a shit-ton of money, because a lot of folks were getting benefits they shouldn’t. I didn’t contest it because I had found work, had (finally) gotten my brother’s social security benefits switched from our mother to me, and, you know, we were doing okay. But let me tell you, when it was summer, and I didn’t make him take his Focalin, and he was home every day – his food consumption went from $500 a month to twice that, and I ended up taking out a loan at my credit union to help me get back on track with some Peters I had robbed to pay Paul.
Did I have an iPhone? Yep. Had I had that same phone since I lived in San Francisco and made 53k/year and didn’t have to feed a teenager? Yep. I didn’t want to lose the grandfathered unlimited data, because with a net-head like this boy, I figured it would come in handy someday, plus I had a 25% discount with work, which put me right about where most cell phone bills were.
Did my nails look professionally manicured? Yep. You know who did them, and still does? Me. I spent $80 once on a kit, a splurge with my tax return. The kit paid for itself in three months – not that I would have gone for professional manicures during those three months.
Did I look like a million bucks when I went out on the town? Hell yes. I bought my corsets at cost, having worked at Stormy Leather – That piece that’s $450 off the rack? $110 for me, and again, back when I had that money to blow. If you could get a two-tone leather underbust corset with steel boning for $65, you’d do it, too. My shoes had been purchased years before, and were well-maintained. My stockings are meticulously cared for so as not to require frequent replacement. My makeup skills have been honed over many years and I get paid to do this for other people now, so yes, it looks like I paid someone to do mine, but I did not. My hair – that is my one concession, and one I didn’t allow myself until just a few months ago. I don’t spend money on myself, but I wanted this, and I spend less on my fire engine red and violent violet locks than I did on the cigarettes I gave up on February 4 of this year.
Bottom line is, you don’t know where my dollars go. If you ask me, I’ll tell you. Do I make some poor decisions about what to spend money on? Of course I do! I was never taught differently, so every GOOD decision I make is a fucking triumph. But I do not say, “Ha ha, look at me getting away with this, look at me tricking all of these people, look at me taking advantage of all of these suckers paying into these programs.” If anything, I say, “Please, please let me be able to buy J’s yearbook, and to help him CosPlay Space Dandy for PortCon, and to afford college applications to the places he’s interested in.” I guarantee I criticize myself and my decisions more than you ever will – so maybe, you could offer some of your knowledge. Ask me, “Do you know about this great consignment shop that specializes in weird shit like he might want for cons?” Say, “I know of a cobbler who could probably fix that busted shoe buckle in a hot minute.” Give me a fucking hug and whisper, “I have the most amazing crock pot recipe and I swear J won’t even know there are green veggies in it.”
I am just one human being, doing my best. I have done a whole lot of fucking up. I have done a whole lot of less-than-the-best-possible. I have done a whole lot of just-shy-of-awesome.
But I have fucking DONE IT. I’m not just sitting back and letting other people do. I am doing. And if someone wants to say that they can do better than I am, please, let them. But you know what? Nobody’s gonna do what I do. Nobody else is going to be to J what I am – our mother couldn’t; our sister didn’t need to be and I didn’t want her to be; our brother wasn’t able; his father… fuck, may as well stop there. I chose this gig, and I am the best person for it. That goes for other positions I hold, in my family, among my friends, and in my community. I don’t do a damned one of them perfectly, but is it better than not at all? I’d like to think so.
I have been judged and criticized and everything else – I’m here to say that I want the folks who would judge me, to see all of what they need to know in order to do so. If they still find me guilty, I’d like to talk to them and find out why. Find out what I need to do to earn their respect. And then decide whether I would still respect myself if I did it.